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There are a lot of terms you hear when people talk about senior living, from memory care to assisted living, to independent living, and more. What do they all mean, and how do they relate to each other? Does your loved one need memory care? Exactly how “independent” is independent living?

Adding to the confusion, different states may use different terms for the same thing. Navigating the sometimes conflicting information can seem extra overwhelming when you’re trying to determine what type of senior living your loved one needs. You want to—need to—make the right choice, but you’re feeling a little lost. It’s understandable.

We’re going to clear up a few things by taking a closer look at three common types of lifestyles found in most senior living communities. In this article, we look at the differences between: 

Get guidance choosing a senior living community. Start here. >>

Assisted Living

Assisted living is probably the senior living community type you’ve heard about most. People often lump any type of senior community into assisted living. There’s a reason for that: It’s a broad lifestyle. It’s all based on care needs, and care needs are as unique as each individual.

You’ll find that assisted living shares many similarities with independent living, which we’ll get to in the next section. Both lifestyles offer seniors the independence they enjoy, with the level of care they need. Seniors in both independent and assisted living usually have the same home-like apartments or condos, but seniors in assisted living also have well-trained support staff on hand to provide a certain level of personal and medical assistance—while still prioritizing their independence. Fundamentally, the difference is that seniors in assisted living require more care.

Who Needs Assisted Living?

Assisted living is ideal for seniors who may need help with dressing, bathing, eating, or using the bathroom, but who don’t need intensive medical and nursing care. 

If you know your parent or loved one needs help with daily activities, but you don’t want to “take away” their independence, assisted living can be the perfect choice for everyone. Your parent or loved one won’t have to worry about their own safety, and you’ll feel confident knowing their needs are taken care of while they still have plenty of opportunity to do the things they love and have a high quality of life.

In addition to providing a support staff and meals, most assisted living communities also offer other services, including:

  • Healthcare management and monitoring
  • Help with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Housekeeping and laundry
  • Medication management
  • Recreational activities
  • Security
  • Transportation

Independent Living

Sometimes it’s impossible to think of your vibrant, sassy senior parent or loved one as someone who belongs in a senior living community. But is your vibrant, sassy senior parent tired of keeping up a household? Are they still active and wish they had more time to do things they enjoy instead of worrying about chores? Do they love being social and having new experiences? Making new friends? Being part of a community? If so, your parent or loved one is an ideal candidate for independent senior living.  

Independent senior living offers many options for active seniors over 55 who are just done with the stresses and complications of homeownership and want to focus on what they enjoy. They’ve worked their whole lives, and now they’re ready for the next phase to be all about what they want to do. This lifestyle offers seniors simplicity and freedom to stay active and connected, while still providing access to any care they may need.

Most independent living communities offer seniors their own private apartments or condos, so they can continue living the “never a dull moment” lifestyle that makes them happy. Independent living is designed to make life more convenient while offering residents the lifestyle options they want.

Independent living communities often have:

  • A wide range of amenities, such as fitness areas, arts and crafts rooms, entertainment, and more.
  • Recreational and fun, enriching activities
  • A variety of meal options
  • Opportunities for personal growth

As Senior Needs Change, Lifestyles Can Shift

Most communities that offer independent living bring simplicity and freedom to seniors. They stay active and connected while still having access to any care they may need—even as those needs change. As a senior in independent living ages, they may have more personal and medical needs that require a shift to assisted living, which can provide them with the appropriate level of care while still preserving their independence. 

Keep In Mind The Costs of Senior Living Amenities And Services

Although independent and assisted living usually come with a slew of amenities and services, they’re often at an additional cost. Be sure you understand the costs associated with amenities and other aspects of senior living before you start your senior living community search.

Memory Care Assisted Living

If your loved one needs memory care services, you likely already know the stress and worry that comes along with caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It’s an emotional roller coaster to deal with, and there’s no way around that. Almost suddenly, someone who might have been your family’s pillar of strength now has a difficult time remembering their grandchildrens’ names or whether they turned off water spigots and stove burners.

When your loved one has memory issues, processing your own emotions about them not being the “same” can be exhausting, mentally and physically. Because most memory issues are progressive and will get worse, it’s often impossible to reach a “new normal.”

That’s why memory care has become a true haven for so many. Memory care is a type of senior living that provides specialized care for seniors with memory issues. When it becomes difficult to care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, memory care assisted living helps everyone in the family feel more secure and comfortable. 

In senior living communities, memory care is moving towards providing truly person-directed care. In many high-quality senior living communities with memory care services, trained, certified, and dedicated staff get to know and work with each resident as an individual, giving each resident the unique care they deserve.

What’s Different About Memory Care?

Memory care assisted living communities take care of each resident’s needs—memory and other physical and medical care needs—along with providing important resources to treat memory loss. Residents get a personalized service plan, tailored to help them with their memory needs, and they can enjoy life, every day. Often, a physician and nurse practitioner regularly check in on memory care seniors, along with other staff that may include a certified dementia practitioner.

Although all memory care programs are rooted in caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, not all are created equal. When looking for communities, ask specific questions about memory care services. If you don’t feel confident that your loved one’s needs are going to be met in one community, move on to the next on your list. You won’t be comfortable unless your parent or loved one is comfortable—so find a community that works for you both.

Finding the Right Senior Living Community for Your Loved One

After reading about the three main types of senior living lifestyles you can expect in a senior living community, hopefully you’re a little clearer on what your parent or loved one needs. Once you determine the type of care you’re looking for, your next move is identifying communities to tour. 

However, identifying communities to tour, and then choosing one, can seem complicated because there are so many available. We have help for that too! Start by taking a look at our guide, 5 Steps for Evaluating and Choosing the Right Senior Living Community.

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